Why the heck should it be a firing offense to talk with the Russians?

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is in hot water from congressional Democrats and the broader left for...talking to the Russians, while serving as the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.  Yes, it was a question of disclosure to the Senate at confirmation, as their complaint follows.  But what we talking about was a gladhand with a Russian ambassador at the sidelines of a public event that both men were entitled to be at, as if that held the same reporting requirement as an SVR (formerly KGB) recruitment attempt.  Democrats bring up that Sessions was an adviser to the Donald Trump campaign at the time, ignoring that this was a Senate event and that Sessions was serving in a Senate capacity.  But Sessions's very reluctance to speak about it at his Senate confirmation points to problems within the Washington culture itself, which have gotten so bad that even an innocuous conversation with a Russian official is the equivalent of full-blown treason.  Any questions as to why relations with Russia have been so persistently bad a quarter-century after the Cold War's end?

The problem of Not Being Allowed to Talk with the Russians is obviously a political gambit, but it's even more a bureaucratic one.

On the surface, the complaints against Sessions are the work of an embittered Democrat establishment still desperate to pin something impeachable onto Trump and to punish Russia for what it deludes itself into thinking was a Russian hacking role that secured Hillary Clinton's defeat.  Never mind that Clinton was a bad candidate and that Trump got the votes in the critical swing states.  At a telephone town hall meeting in the wake of Trump's Tuesday speech before Congress, the obsession was obvious from Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), who discussed with her constituents how many different ways they could consider to pin Russian linked charges onto Trump – everything from getting hold of his taxes to co-opting the intelligence agencies.  There wasn't much talk at that citizen powwow about how to improve Obamacare so that consumers might want to buy it.

That's the situation we have in Washington as Democrats seek ever new ways to target Trump by hitting Sessions.  They aren't interested in national security, and they never have been.  If they were, they'd have halted the presidential candidacy of Hillary Clinton, who was found to have committed the Mother of All Security Violations in illegally securing a private server to handle her State Department email.  They didn't.  We don't need to bring up leftist Jane Fonda succoring the North Vietnamese while U.S. servicemen were being tortured, or Democrat Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) colluding with the KGB in his bid to halt Ronald Reagan's re-election.

It's a grotesque spectacle, given all that the Democrats have handed to the Iranian mullahs via the Iran deal, as well as the no-conditions normalization of relations with the monstrous Castro regime.  The Russians are the big problem?  A problem so big that a guy like Sessions dare not talk with them?  The mullahs are laughing up their sleeves at that one.

The Beltway Hive is even more complicit in this sorry state of affairs.

Embattled intelligence agencies, facing layoffs and, more importantly, seeing their usefulness supplanted by the internet as well as spill-all traitors like Ed Snowden, are likewise doing their part to prove their value by demonizing the Russians.  For them, it's bureaucratic survival.  Having a security clearance is so common that it's hardly a national necessity; it's now a status symbol, a way of ensuring high salaries, zero-productivity jobs, and access to Washington suburb real estate, as well as a haughty sense of importance and entitlement.  They've kept up the campaign of leaks to undermine Trump, like the Democrats, by using the Russians as a club.

The Russians must feel like a punching bag.  All they've signaled since Trump's election is a desire for good relations and to cooperate in the battle to crush ISIS.  For their efforts, they keep getting slapped with spy accusations minus evidence and pariah status.  Reports from Moscow say they are starting to get discouraged.  If so, it is one heck of a missed opportunity for the U.S. to wipe out terrorism from a Beltway elite desperate to hold on to its privileges.

Meanwhile, the media, which feed on leaks, continue to play their role as handmaiden to the Beltway elites.  Thursday, the Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, scolded CNN for "fake news" by reporting that an unnamed top U.S. intelligence official claimed that Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak was a "top spy and recruiter of spies."

Really?  Shortly before he left office, President Obama threw out 35 fry cooks and other Russian embassy and consular staff, claiming that those guys were all the proven spies, despite no counterparty arrests of Americans who would have supposedly been their recruits.  Kislyak, the old spy of spies, somehow did not make the list.

Anyone in the foreign policy establishment can tell you that ambassadors are almost never spies, and certainly not one of the high rank and importance of Kislyak, whose job is to ensure the best U.S.-Russian relations possible under the circumstances.  Spying goes on from both sides, of course, but it is astonishing that CNN could claim that it found a high-ranking U.S. intelligence official to claim that the ambassador was the lowly spy recruiter.  CNN's source, if he wasn't made up, undoubtedly wanted his name withheld not for national security reasons, but because he would be a laughingstock if he made that claim with his name attached.

It's frustrating, because all this power-gaming about sensitive information, national security, security clearances as status symbols on the Beltway – all have the effect of discouraging any new positive outcome between the U.S. and Russians.

As a matter of fact, everyone should be talking to the Russians.

Talking and communicating build relationships, trust, and new initiatives.

An ambassador is an envoy, a messenger, and always has been.  Ambassador Kislyak is here legally and was just doing his job when he met Sessions, which is talking and meeting with officials.  He has never spoken ill of our country, nor has he ever insulted us.  That comes even as his country has endured some pretty strong provocations from the Obama administration.

Making Russians a pariah has the perverse effect of making the intelligence agencies seem important whether they are or not.  But it also has the negative effect of discouraging knowledge and understanding in the broader population.

How many Russians do most Americans know, anyway?  How many kids in school study the Russian language?  On the other side of the equation, how many Americans do most Russians know?  The connections are negligible.  Other than from a small wave of immigrants from the 1980s and 1990s, the Russians are largely unknown to us.  Since the Cold War's end in 1991, Russian language and Russian area studies at universities have dwindled precipitously, to just 371 bachelor's degrees, 12 master's degrees, and one – count 'em, one – doctoral degree.  Those figures are from 2014, and the Department of Education hasn't gotten around to updating them in the past three years, but the trend line from the charts is clear: it's a 66% decline since 1969, and it's the only strategic language and studies area that has seen any such decline.  Chinese, Arabic, and Korean have all seen soaring gains.  Russian is the only one that has fallen.  Neither we nor the intelligence community has the knowledge base needed to make informed decisions about the country.

The ignorance was obvious enough last week, when Sen. Lindsey Graham announced that 2017 would be "the year of kicking Russia in the ass," as if that would be a good idea with one of the world's largest nuclear superpowers.  Does Graham care to say how many of our men and women in uniform he'd like to expend for that?

Eight years ago, the ignorance was obvious, too.  Then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton's badly translated "reset" button was pretty much a sign of a depleted knowledge base.  Did they really have not one person who could translate the word "reset" at the bloated Department of State?

Russia's ambassador Kislyak was doing exactly what he is supposed to do as the country's envoy to the U.S., as was Jeff Sessions.  It's called diplomacy, something that up until now was what the radical left touted as a cure-all for every conflict.

Without it, it would be all weird news and strange interpretations of our intentions infecting the Russians' views of us because they cannot get good information.  As for our knowledge, we'd pretty well get all of it filtered through a George Soros propaganda apparatus.  That's the risk of not talking directly with the Russians.  With two leading nuclear superpowers constantly at odds, what really helps is simply to know the Russians and to keep talking with them.

It's not going to happen so long as the bureaucrats, the Democrats, and the media keep using it as a career-killer for anyone on the Beltway who does so.

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